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Five Lessons from Last Season

Photo by Matt Adams, UK Athletics

John Calipari has repeatedly called this season a “learning experience” that left him humbled and hungry for next season (and NYC pastries, if you follow his Twitter feed). After a few days of reflection, and countless conversations with friends who asked “what happened?!” to Kentucky this season, here are five lessons I think we can draw from a disappointing year:

1. An empty bench is an enabler

This team’s primary problem? Not enough players. The cabinet was cleaned after last year’s Championship run, leading Calipari to lean heavily on his incoming freshmen and Ryan Harrow. When Cal wasn’t getting the performance, and more importantly, the attitude, he wanted to from those players, he couldn’t do what he would normally do: put them on the bench and make them fight for playing time. After Nerlens Noel went down, the problem got even worse. Towards the end of the season, Calipari addressed that situation numerous times with the media, speaking wistfully of the future when he would have his best friend, the bench, back. There is no better teaching tool for a coach with a young squad than the bench. For those of you wondering why he didn’t just play Tod Lanter, Brian Long, or Sam Malone when things got as bad as they did, Cal has a simple answer: “I like winning too much.” Thankfully, with a roster chock full of future NBA players, this will no longer an issue.

2. Not all freshmen are created equal

I wasn’t sure there would ever be a time when I would miss Anthony Davis or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist more than I did when they left last year, but it may have happened during that 30-point loss at Tennessee. Over the past three years, we have been spoiled by Anthony Davis, MKG, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Brandon Knight, all freshmen whose talent was matched by their will to win. Davis and MKG in particular were mature beyond their years, something I’m not sure we ever fully realized until this year’s group crumbled under expectations. The only player that was ready to handle the UK lifestyle was Nerlens Noel, and when he went down, this team’s flaws became fatal. Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein are all extremely talented, but none of them are ready to make the jump to the NBA, something any of them will readily admit. As Cal said, there’s nothing wrong with them being two, three, or even four-year players. Whether or not this year’s weak draft will lead to them making the jump remains unseen.

3. There are some things even dodgeball can’t fix

Jimmy Dykes turned off his Dr. Seuss filter last Tuesday while calling the UK/Robert Morris game and unleashed some hard truths about this Kentucky team. One thing he said stood out to me: Dykes said he knew this team had some major problems when they had to play a game of dodgeball to try to save the season. Looking back, he’s right. When poor John Robic has to dress up in a ridiculous outfit and kick your butt in dodgeball for you to “recapture the fun” in sport, things are bad. Cal has said several times that there are players on this squad that simply put, don’t love playing basketball. They don’t have that built-in passion for the sport that makes them come to the gym early and stay late, ala Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Whether or not that’s something you can cultivate over an off season full of vengeful thoughts…well, we’ll see.

4. You are only as strong as your weakest link

This team lived and died by the play of Ryan Harrow and Alex Poythress. When Harrow and Poythress played well, the Cats were at their best. When one or both of them were off their game, they floundered. Harrow’s inability to lead the team and handle the pressure left him crying in a locker room in Nashville. Poythress admitted that at times, he didn’t give all of his effort, and by the time he was ready to rectify those mistakes, it was too late. Both have said they want to be back next season. If they return, they will have to fight for playing time and prove they’re ready for the spotlight, or each lapse and misstep will result in them heading back to the pine.

5. Hell hath no fury like a Kentucky team scorned

It was hard not to be cocky after last season. Three years of success in the Calipari system and a National Championship had Kentucky’s swagger so high that ESPN turned it into a TV show. Unfortunately, that TV show may have led to our demise. Looking back, ESPN’s All-Access highlighted some serious flaws in this group that we can only now fully realize. Even more, it heaped even more hype onto their shoulders, which by season’s end, crumbled like a Jenga tower. The only good thing about Kentucky’s embarrassing end to the season? The humiliation seems to have lit a fire in several of the players for revenge. Most notably Willie Cauley-Stein, who has said he’s ready to come back and get another ring several times, even tweeting a daily countdown to Big Blue Madness. Now, Cauley-Stein has also said that he has to speak with his family before making a decision and that if their financial situation becomes a factor, he will go. But, that passion and next year’s super class assembling in the wings can’t help but give you goosebumps.

208 more days ’til Big Blue Madness. (Thanks, Willie)

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

21 Comments for Five Lessons from Last Season

  1. LeX
    12:01 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    I think we need to acknowledge that sean woods was right about this team.

  2. ThankfulCat
    12:06 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    #6 Can’t Do It With All Freshmen: Every team needs some upperclassmen to show the youngsters the ropes. We all should embrace Stein, Poythress, Goodwin, Harrow, Polson, Hood and Wiltjer and be thankful for what they endured this year. We don’t win the title in 2012 without Miller, Lamb and Jones who had already been through the wars

  3. Roland
    12:06 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    1, Roger THAT!

  4. Roland
    12:10 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

  5. Delk for 3
    12:11 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    No. 1 reason — You have to find guys who can ball AND shoot. Kentucky had some guys who can ball but not shoot. Also, they had some a couple decent shooters who couldn’t really ball.

  6. Azubuike's Bicep
    12:13 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Technically, we wouldn’t learn point #5 until the end of next season.

  7. Rei
    12:15 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    at least Alex wasn’t Wiltjer-tier terrible.

  8. Mazir Fakir
    12:21 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Cal is not a good coach unless he has overwhelming advantage in talent

  9. Never have
    12:22 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Reason #1 has been an issue for all of Cal’s teams since coming to UK. He hasn’t played more than 7. That might be a thing he likes to do but he hasn’t had choice with any of these teams.

  10. UKDMD
    12:26 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    #4 great video. We need to start using that chant at the beginning of games when they’re introducing our players. Start low then by the end have it be deafeningly loud. Something that primeval would scare the crap out of opposing teams. And it means “He Rises”.

  11. lee denney
    12:34 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Nicely thought out and well written article. What makes it good intelligently good is that I agree with all of it.

  12. Bart Edwards
    12:40 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Fairweather fans like you make me want to puke. These boys may not be Dan Issel or Frank Ramsey or Anthony Davis, but they wear the blue and white and the Kentucky name, and any TRUE fan will stop talking trash about them just because they didn’t win a national championship so you could lord it over your co-workers. It is especially heinous when it comes from unfit slobs who have no understanding of how tough it is to play any sport competitively in Division 1.

  13. Mac
    12:47 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    At what point are we going to STOP analyzing and talking about last seasons team ? They were underachievers who didn’t play at the level we all expect at Kentucky. End of story. Please stop regurgitating the same information over and over again. Let’s move on to Stoops first year at the helm in Football and the amazing potential that next years Hoops team will have.

  14. cayts
    12:48 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Some good blog entries today. I’m glad you mentioned the All Access show in the last point. Although not a main factor in the poor showing this year, I think it started the season off in a bad way. The freshmen probably let it go to their heads (see Sean Woods’ comments). There were no upperclassmen with leadership abilities to talk to the freshmen and say “you haven’t accomplished anything yet – you have to earn it.” Kentucky has a great tradition, but it will not remain great with an elitist attitude. In the same vein, I think the locker room renovation was too over the top. I don’t have a problem with it being the nicest, but the individual robes with monogrammed names?? C’mon, that’s instilling an elitist mentality in a freshman who hasn’t earned anything yet, except a scholarship to UK. The 2012 banner hanging in the locker room doesn’t help either. It would be hard to play loose when you have that banner hanger over you and the weight of the BBN on your shoulders. I know I sound like an old fogey (I’m not), but that’s my opinion. Any thoughts?

  15. brain
    12:49 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    This is a deceased equine.

  16. brain
    12:51 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    #8- North Carolina and Ohio St. in 2011 would disagree. They would agree you’re a moron.

  17. GoForIt
    12:55 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    No Tubby news yet on here??

  18. Hal
    1:23 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    It was a Total Team Failure, from Cal to the secretary, no need to try and single people out

  19. Tts
    2:19 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    I SAY BULLSH&$ WCS! If it takes losing and being a Miserable team to get pumped up to wear the blue and white then you don’t need to be here! No matter how long they stay, they should be ready to compete 100% on day 1!

  20. Boone County
    3:58 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    #9- What about Cal’s first year. After the starters Orton, Dodson, Harris, Stevenson and even Liggins at the end of the year got quality mins to build a solid 10 man rotation. But I do agree the lack of bench was a huge problem this year and will definitely not be this year.

  21. Katbluefan
    6:57 am March 26, 2013 Permalink

    # 12..Bart Edwards’ statement was spot on in what he said. There are some “so called” KY fans who are never happy with what Cal does. His team won the Nat. Championship last year plus his record in three yrs. is very good. so this year it bad, lost a young man who will go in the first five in the NBA draft although he has a bad leg for now. I for one are very HAPPY with what Cal has done in the four years at KY. Living near Memphis I was happy with him at Memphis all tho he and Memphis got a RAW DEAL from the NCAA just like KY did with Kanter. As we know the only program that ranks with the NCAA is Coach Nose and Puke.